This piece is the final installment of a four-part series on the author's discovery of the history of her organic farm. Read the other pieces, on how she began tracing the history of her farm, the immigrant stories of the farm's early owners and the historic farm sales of the Bruchmiller family.
After Otto Bruchmiller died in 1916, three of his children — Lizzie, Herb and Trudie — moved to southeast Colorado, where a new irrigation canal provided dependable water for farming. Anna and her husband worked in a restaurant in California, Carl and his family moved into Lawrence and ran a livestock hauling business. Emma and her husband continued to live in Lawrence. Dollie traveled the world, working as a nurse. In 1919, Bruchmiller Farm, rather worn out from years of row cropping and erosion, was sold.
The farm changed hands several times in the '20s. In 1932, like many other properties in the area, it was sold at sheriff's sale in Oskaloosa and became a rental property. With cars and slightly better roads, country people could have a garden, a cow and a job in town. Three or four families came and went during the '30s and early '40s, mostly struggling to make it while renting a cheap old house. The paint peeled on the house and barn, the fences sagged.
In 1946, Maynard Wipprecht, a soldier returning from WWII, brought his bride from Scotland to the place he had bought in Kansas. There was no running water or electricity, the outhouse was just past the garden, the cookstove burned wood, the bedrooms were chilly and the porches were beginning to lean. Maynard Wipprecht sold the farm to his parents, who farmed with two Morgan horses. They finally got electricity in 1954, but the indoor plumbing took another ten years. When the Wipprechts sold the place to retire to Wyandotte County, a local fixer-upper bought the farm, living here and working on it for a year, then selling it again.
In 1976, we bought the farm — complete with indoor plumbing. Now we have come full circle. It is a farm again, but the crops are fruits and vegetables for our CSA and the farmers market. We rebuilt the barn, twice, and are finally replacing the fences. The house is remodeled, sturdy and cozy, but with echoes of the past. We still battle the mice, just as Otto and Augusta did. We replanted fruit trees to replace the large orchard that dwindled from the 1890s and disappeared during the drought of the '30s. We are rebuilding the soil, a painfully slow process. Native prairie grasses are spreading through our pastures, making them look as they must have when Otto and Augusta first arrived. A horse stands by the gate. Our hens have a new chicken house, and we are thinking of getting a few Dexter cows and guinea hogs. I wish we could have Otto to talk to for awhile. How did he load his hogs into the spring wagon to get them to town? Did they have any tricks to keep the hens laying during the winter? Was there a windmill to pump water for the animals, or did they have to carry it in buckets?
Studying the history of our farm has made some lessons clear. First of all, this hilly country is best for grassland, not row crops. It has taken decades to repair the soil, and the process is not yet complete. Although we raise vegetables on part of our acreage, we use grass strips, terracing, cover crops and crop residue to reduce erosion. Having a mix of crops and animals makes sense, so the animals provide fertility for the soil. We are about to try portable, woven electric fence with a solar charger so we can move chickens and a few cows around to convert more of the grass into meat, eggs and fertilizer. Like the Bruchmillers, we find fruit to be productive but not dependable, because of our erratic climate. Diversity helps insure against disaster.
Bruchmiller/Høyland Farm has gone through a cycle in the past 134 years. Starting in 1877, it was a productive farm that supported a large family well enough to have some luxuries — a piano, pets, an ice cream freezer and ice from town, a nice home, a nursing school education for Dollie. By 1920, the soil was worn out and the economy was changing. This became a poor family's home, a way to make ends meet while working a low-wage job in town. As a rented farm, it was not carefully maintained and the house and barn deteriorated. In 1946, it was once again owner-occupied, but it was one of the last homes in the area to get modern amenities like electricity and indoor plumbing. The top soil was gone.
Now it is a producing farm again, providing a significant portion of our livelihood. The house and barn are in good repair, although they take constant attention. Our freezer is full of food we grew, and for about eight months of the year, trucks loaded with vegetables leave here several times a week. We frequently get calls from young people wanting to work here and learn about farming. If only they could also talk to the Bruchmillers.
May 24, 2006
...When I lie in my bed upstairs, I imagine all the people who have lived in this house over the last 130 years. Mostly, I think of Otto and Augusta, who lived here longer than anyone else has so far. We have lived here the second-longest, and hope to die here as they did.